Elite Political Instability Still a Major Problem in Sub-Saharan Africa

Jay Ulfelder over at Dart-Throwing Chimp is at it again forecasting likely coup events in 2013. The one thing that jumps at you from his global relative coup risk map (see below) is Sub-Saharan Africa’s over-representation in the highest risk category of states. ImageWhy does Sub-Saharan Africa have much higher relative levels of predicted elite political instability?

The political science literature has varied answers including: high levels of poverty, state incapacity, high levels of ethnic fractionalization and or polarization, limited state consolidation due to having relatively young states, etc.

Jay’s forecast, like recent events in Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan, Mali, the DRC, CAR, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, is a reminder that there is no escaping the reality of state under-development in Africa. It also suggests that despite our best efforts the process of achieving state-ness in Africa will be a messy affair that will at best only be mildly ameliorated, if not made worse, by inconsistent and contradictory meddling by major world powers. Even the magic wand of political democracy might not be of much help in this regard.

On (the now shattered) Malian Democracy

Update:

Mutineers in Mali have appeared on national television to announce the overthrow of the “incompetent” government of President Amadou Toumani Toure. More on this here.

Also, I must hand it to Jay Ulfelder over at dart-throwing chimp for nailing it on Mali’s coup risk in 2012.

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What started as a mutiny in Mali on Tuesday night appears to have degenerated into a coup. Mali was due to hold elections on April 29th 2012. Since (re)democratization in the early 1990s Mali has routinely been cited as a case of democratic consolidation despite seemingly insurmountable odds (poor HDI scores, etc.). The current developments, however, raise serious questions with regard to whether the Malian political and military elite have wholly bought into the idea of settling their battles for power and influence at the ballot.

Furthermore, existing evidence (see below, part of an ongoing research project) paint a picture not of consolidation but of a cycling of over-sized coalitions that are prone to executive control and manipulation. The non-existence of stable elite coalitions (as appears to be the case in the stylized comparative case of Ghana) is a recipe for elite political instability as we are currently witnessing.

Oversize coalitions in government under electoral democracy are not a sufficient condition for elite political instability, but they are definitely a sign that things might not be right.

The idea here is that stable coalitions create room for self-enforcing arrangements among elites by raising actors’ audience costs. A regular cycling of over-size coalitions flies in the face of all of this – resulting in near-permanent first mover advantage and incentives for those left out to use extra-constitutional means to gain power.

The proximate cause of the mutiny and eventual (attempted) coup in Mali might have been a confluence of weak state coercive capacity and the resurgence of the Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country (fueled by weapons from Libya); but one cannot rule out the significance of the enabling structural conditions.

This is a data point on coups in Africa that I rather did not have.